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Fernando Wheeler

All posts by Fernando Wheeler

Zagat Chicago Presents Chicago’s Best Restaurants

Well, you’ve finally made it to Chicago, Illinois and now you want to experience the finest cuisine that this city has to offer. Welcome to Chi-Town and to get help with the eating part, check out this video by Zagat Chicago.  Are you starving yet?

Experiencing Chicago River On A Kayak Tour

The Chicago River… one of the sweetest spots in Chicago that Chicagoans undoubtedly LOVE!  There is no better way to enjoy it than experiencing it on a boat, canoe, or kayak.

Many enthusiasts of paddling sports would agree that kayaking on the Chicago River can be a beautiful, fun-filled experience. Although an intermediate level of experience is preferred to kayak on the river, due to the busy nature of the Chicago Loop’s waterway, novice kayakers can also enjoy the excursion with the assistance of guides.

The water of the Chicago River does not move too quickly, unlike other kayaking hotspots in the city. This, in effect, provides paddlers with an outstanding change of pace and the opportunity to experience a totally different view of the sprawling city.


Chicago River Through Downtown


Apart from the busy traffic, which can be overcome through competent maneuvering, the river has astonishing paddling conditions and is definitely one of the most enjoyable routes to travel. Kayak racing is one of the most popular sports on the water.

The Loop!

Rentals and guided tours are also increasingly fashionable in downtown Chicago, known as The Loop. It is of importance to note that both single and double kayaking tours and expeditions are available on the river. A great kayak to bring or rent is the Sun Dolphin Bali 10 SS, but make sure to get a nice pad for your bottom so you can enjoy a longer trip. It has an open cockpit and back support, as well as a storage hatch in the rear for a nice day trip.

The panoramic view on the river of The Loop in Chicago is simply breathtaking. Adventurers get to experience first-hand the amazing fireworks at Navy Pier, the busy metropolis, and the classic architecture of this famous city as they paddle along the serene river walk and symbolic overpasses.

In the evening, paddlers can enjoy the iconic scenes of the sun setting behind Chicago’s skyline, as they race against numerous other adventurers down one of the most scenic rivers in the United States.


Kayaking through Chicago


Paddlers can also enjoy the bustling activities of the central business district and the view of City Hall. Furthermore, kayakers can learn about Chicago’s history and heritage while paddling along on the river. As a matter of fact, paddlers can choose a relaxed 2 1/2 hour kayak excursion past the stunning skyscrapers of downtown Chicago and other magnificent sites such as the Merchandise Mart, the Civic Opera Building, the East Bank Club, the Willis Tower, and the Marina City Towers. These features, in effect, qualify the Chicago River as a favorite kayaking site for many locals and tourists.

Several companies provide kayaking services on the river, with the most popular being Urban Kayaks, Kayak Chicago, Chicago Outfitters, Chicago Paddle Company, the Lincoln Park Boat Club, and the Chicago River Canoe and Kayak.

Most of these companies offer kayak rental services, guided tours across the Loop, training programs for paddling and canoeing, group fitness classes, as well as social tours. Urban Kayaks, in particular, offers a multiplicity of trips and guided tours across the Loop based on factors such as skill-level or experience, group type, age and reservation price.


Group tour of Chicago Loop


Other companies provide customized kayaking services that align well with the needs and expectations of paddlers. These companies always ensure that the exceedingly relaxed kayak expedition terminates with a return to the commencement point.

Overall, paddlers desiring to have a life-changing experience should consider kayaking on the Chicago River. Here, value for the money and personal kayaking satisfaction are guaranteed. Plan to visit one of the mentioned companies for a heavenly kayaking experience to view The Loop from the river. This experience, according to adventurers who have already paddled across, will certainly take your breath away.

Al Capone – Public Enemy No. 1

If you want to know about Chicago’s history, then there is no way to escape it without delving into its mob history, especially the mobster known as Al Capone.


History of Al Capone

Alphonse Capone (a.k.a Al Capone, a.k.a Scarface) was born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York to poor Italian immigrants. He was originally one of nine children until one of his sisters died at about 12 months old. As Al was repeating 6th grade, he got in trouble for hitting a teacher and never went back to school after that.

Al Capone


The Capones moved to a better neighborhood where Al met his future wife, Mae, and Johnny Torrio, who was considered his mob mentor:

Johnny Torrio - gangster in Chicago

Johnny Torrio

Al Capone was running errands for Torrio until he left for Chicago in 1909. That forced Al to work at various odd jobs, but he continued with a small amount of local gang activity.


How Al Capone Got The Nickname “Scarface”

It was in 1917 that Capone was introduced to another gangster, Frankie Yale, who hired him to be a bartender/bouncer in Coney Island. He made an insulting remark to a lady one night, and her brother hit Al Capone and slashed his face, earning the nickname “Scarface”. He hated that name and always hid the scars whenever his picture was taken.

scars on Capone's face


Al married Mae when he was 19, the same month their son Albert Francis (nicknamed “Sonny”) was born. When Capone was 20, Johnny Torrio invited him to Chicago, after his father died, and he left Brooklyn. He started work as a brothel bouncer and it was there that he contracted syphilis, which he never sought a cure for. His wife and son, mother, and a few siblings all moved to Chicago where Al bought a house in a middle class neighborhood.


Al Capone Becomes Torrio’s Right Hand Man

Torrio had been working for crime boss “Big Jim” Colosimo until his murder in 1920, allowing him to take over Colosimo’s crime empire. Although it was suspected that Capone was involved, he became Torrio’s right-hand. They moved their operation to Cicero, outside the city limits, to get away from a newly elected mayor who wanted to go after corruption in the city.

A Cicero mayoral election became threatening as well in 1924, and both Capone and Torrio orchestrated an intimidation effort so their candidate would be elected. Some of the voters were shot, some killed, including Capon’s brother, Frank, when the cops came and started shooting.


protesting the alcohol ban


In 1925, Johnny Torrio was shot many times, but recovered and then resigned to give Capone full control. Al was 26 when he was made the new boss of an illegal brewery and transportation network that extended into Canada, having the protection of politicians and law-enforcement. This resulted in Capone being more violent to attain more profits, blowing up establishments if they didn’t order their liquor from him.

Up to 100 people died this way so Capone could raise his revenues.


Scarface’s Luxurious Lifestyle

“Scarface” lived in luxury, wearing fitted suits, smoking the best cigars, eating gourmet foods and drinking his favorite liquor, Templeton Rye. He wore expensive jewelry and had many female companions by his side, all while claiming to be a simple businessman.

Torrio had advised Capone to keep a low profile, but he ignored that and stayed at a plush hotel in downtown Chicago. It was estimated that his operation made $100 million a year, which is worth $1.3 billion today.


Scarface Capone looking at things


Murder Attempt on Al Capone

Capone had his run-ins with the North Side Gang, which was run by Hymie Weiss after the former head of the gang was murdered. Torrio is thought to have arranged the murder, so Weiss and his gang (including Bugs Moran, another well known gangster) wanted revenge. Capone’s driver was murdered after being tortured, and was followed by an attempt on Weiss’s life.

The North Siders then tried to lure Capone to the windows of the hotel he had his headquarters in, firing machine guns at the windows, but Capone was not hurt. A few months after that, Weiss was murdered at the North Sider’s headquarters, followed by Capone’s friend being kidnapped and murdered.


gangster weiss



After all of that, Al Capone was suspicious of everyone and increased his security personnel and expressed a desire to leave Chicago in 1928. He would take his whole entourage on a train sleeper car to another state and stay for a week at a time in luxury hotels under different names. He always paid in cash so he could never be traced.

By 1929, after having dominated the illegal liquor trade, Capone realized that Bugs Moran was trying to take a piece of his business and was coming after Capone’s hit man, Jack McGurn (a.k.a “Machine Gun”).

In response, it is thought that they both decided to murder Moran and his men, in what has been known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. While Capone was in Miami, McGurn had his men dress as policemen to fake a police raid and lined Moran’s men up against the wall of their garage. They then started shooting them, some with machine guns, and some with shotguns. Moran had been alerted to what was about to happen and escaped before the massacre.


massacre by Al Capone?


The US Government Goes After Al Capone

Al Capone was believed to be involved and the public called for something to be done, so the government went after him for income tax evasion. In 1931, Capone was brought up on 22 counts of tax evasion, and after a plea bargain deal failed, the case went to trial.

Al tried to use bribery and intimidate the jury, but the judge ordered a whole new jury at the last minute, who then found Capone guilty and sentenced him to 11 years. He had already finished a prison sentence at Eastern State Penitentiary of 9 months in 1929 before this trial happened.


al capone's posh prison cell

Capone’s Eastern State Penitentiary cell


In 1932, Capone was doing time in the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary when he was 33, suffering from syphilis, gonorrhea, and cocaine addiction withdrawal.

He was eventually transferred to Alcatraz, where the syphilis spread to his brain (called neurosyphilis) and slowed his mental functions. He stayed in the prison hospital for the last year of his sentence and was a free man by November, 1939.


The Death of Scarface

After his prison release, Capone was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore for treatment of late-stage syphilis. He left in 1940 to move to Florida, and in 1946, it was concluded by a doctor to have a 12 year old’s mentality.

He had a stroke in 1947 and recovered, but then contracted pneumonia and had cardiac arrest a day later. A few days after that, Capone died, surrounded by family in his home, and was buried in Illinois at the Mount Carmel Cemetery.


Capone in miami


The Impact Capone Has Had on Chicago & American History

“Public Enemy No. 1” was 48 when he passed away, and to this day, he is what gangster movie characters are based on. He is mentioned in different books, like Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story From Inside His Family, written by his grandniece. There was also a book by a man who claimed he was Capone’s bodyguard, called Carrying A Gun For Al Capone.

He’s appeared in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, as well as other pieces of literature. He has also been portrayed in various movies and tv shows, as well as in songs by Queen, Michael Jackson, and other bands.

Chicago Dog – A Twist On An American Food Staple

Chicago is not just known for their deep dish pizza, but also for their Chicago Dog!

What Is The Chicago Dog?!

Th Chicago hot dogs are topped with chopped onions, mustard, relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle, peppers, and celery salt on a poppyseed bun. The vast majority of the population in Chicago frown upon putting ketchup on their hot dogs, so much so that they won’t even have it for you to use.

The origin of the Chicago dog (or Chicago style dog) dates back to 1929 when a fast food restaurant called Fluky’s started selling what was, at the time, called a “Depression Sandwich”. It had everything on it that the Chicago dog has today, just without the addition of lettuce. The Drexler Family (who owned Fluky’s) still runs a stand at a Wal-Mart, while the last real location changed their name to U Lucky Dawg and is run by someone else.

chicago style hot dog

The Chicago dog has different variations today, but it is almost always made with hot dogs from two hot dog manufacturers in Chicago, Red Hot Chicago and Vienna Beef. Some places will add lettuce or cucumbers, not use the poppyseed buns or celery salt, or add fries in place of the dill pickle. But mostly, the dogs are boiled in water or steamed, although some stands will cook the dogs on a grill, known as “char-dogs”.

There are so many hot dog places in Chicago that they outnumber 3 other big fast food chains combined. However, we are only listing the five best Chicago dog locations.

Best Chicago Dog Restaurants:

#1. Portillo’s

Started as “The Dog House” in 1963 by Dick Portillo, this restaurant has a main location in Chicago that has branched out to Arizona, California, Florida and Wisconsin. Dick sold the company but is still somewhat involved in the business.

portillo's Chicago dog

The restaurant serves a regular hot dog (which is the Chicago dog) and other kinds of dogs, as well as sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads, and more. They also have their famous chocolate cake shake where they put a slice of their chocolate cake right into your shake!


#2. The Wieners Circle

This hot dog stand opened in 1983 and is popular because of its Maxwell Street Polish (a Polish sausage with mainly mustard and grilled onions), cheese fries, and burgers. The char dog with “the works” is basically a Chicago dog but is grilled instead of steamed.

employee yelling -  the weiners circle - best chicago dog

They are also known for shouting matches between customers and employees during late hours. Many drunken pedestrians eat here after their nights of partying at bars, and the language can get quite foul on some nights. Despite this, the employees receive nice tips, making it a desirable place to work. If you’re the right kind of person, that is.


#3. Wrigley Stadium

Chicago hot dog at Wrigley

Going to a game? Then you might as well get a Chicago dog while you’re at Wrigley Field, although they do have other great foods there as well. However, they’ve made this version easier to eat so you don’t have to deal with too much of a mess, as everything is nicely tucked in around the hot dog. Here, they are called “Wrigley Dogs”.


#4. Superdawg

hot dogs at Superdawg

This drive-in stand was opened in 1948, is still family operated and was featured on Food Network’s Unwrapped and Emeril Live. They have carhop service and is one of the last original drive-ins left in the U.S. Their “Superdawg” is an altered version of the Chicago dog, with mustard, Spanish onions, a hot pepper, dill pickle, and tangy piccalilli. They also have burgers, fries, sides, and shakes.


#5. Gene & Jude’s

hot dog with fries at gene's and jude's in chicago


Gene & Jude’s was founded in 1946 by Gene Mormino, a city worker at the time, and has been operated by his son since 2004. This stand only makes hot dogs, tamales, and fries, and does not use nor have any ketchup. Its Depression Dog is like a Chicago dog but does not have tomatoes or a pickle, and instead has fries on top. It has been featured on “Every Day with Rachael Ray” and Serious Eats, a popular food blog, in which it was titled the best hot dog in America.

5 Famous Chicago Lakes That Are Great For Kayaking

If you love kayaking, then Chicago is the ultimate place to try out your paddling desires! It is one of the best places in the world to enjoy kayaking despite your level of experience. It has a number of spots that range from lakes to calm drifts and rapids, where you can enjoy the fresh air and ensure your skills are refined and polished.

Kayaking in Chicago is more than a navigating exercise, giving you a wide range of activities like watching fireworks, going on themed tours and more, making the exercise worth the indulgence.

Let’s take a look at 5 famous Chicago lakes that are excellent for kayaking fun:

1. Lake Michigan

If you are an experienced paddler, this giant lake to the east of the city is perfect for you. It is the ultimate destination for stand-up paddle boarders and kayakers since it offers a ton of fun, ranking among the best paddling spots in the midwest. Kayaking on Lake Michigan gives you an opportunity to experience beautiful views of the city’s skyline and the presence of fireworks to spice up your boating excursion. It is the ideal spot for romantic kayakers and night owls who wish to enjoy the waters while drinking for fun.

world famous Lake Michigan

However, before setting out, you should ensure that you are fully prepared and comfortable, since conditions on the lake can change unexpectedly. In a span of less than 15 minutes, the water can go from being calm to thrashing white caps. Although the waves on the lake can make kayaking a bit of a struggle, it’s so much fun when the weather is calm and the waters are flat.

Never attempt kayaking on this lake if you are a novice paddler. However, despite your level of experience, you should ensure that you receive some form of guidance and practice paddling before attempting this lake. If you don’t own a kayak, there is no need to worry. There are a number of outfitters around the city who rent them out and offer guided tours while teaching the rules and basics of safe kayaking.

2. Big Bend Lake

big bend lake in chicago

Big Bend Lake is a true hidden gem for paddling. It is a great spot with a number of variations in the route (just as the name suggests), providing a great kayaking experience. The waters are clear and crisp, giving you an opportunity to see the vegetation and wildlife around the lake. In this spot, you will be guaranteed a lifetime experience with a perfect location for kayaking all year round.

This lake is ideal for any paddler who wants to enjoy a beautiful day on the water. The crystal clear and calm waters make paddling for a beginner or experienced kayaker very easy. Although it’s calm all year round, there is a gentle current near the southern end of the lake, which feeds into the Des Plaines River. If you choose to paddle on Big Bend Lake, always carry your kayak, as there are no tours or rentals available.

3. Busse Woods

Do you enjoy viewing the panoramic beauty of wildlife and vegetation? If you do, Busse Woods is the perfect location to try kayaking this season. Being a little farther from the city, this place is perfect for a getaway with the people you hold close to your heart. Paddling through the island pockets and open waters gives one a great opportunity to have an intimate experience with wildlife such as egrets, blue herons and cormorants, among others. Since these animals are all over the area, paddlers on this lake can sweep around the area and get a feel for nature, away from their normal urban life.

busse woods

However, you need to be careful of algae blooms during the hot months, since part of the lake can become shallow, making it difficult to paddle through. In addition, the winds can become strong at certain times of the year, although this shouldn’t worry you. The vegetation, wildlife and people, together with the calm flowing waters, make kayaking here safe. These waters are ideal for all paddlers because of its calm waters and little soft currents. Alternatively, if you are a beginner, you can seek guided kayak tour services, which are available everywhere around the lake.

4. Skokie Lagoons

These waters that are strategically located in Winnetka, Northfield and in Glencoe (north of Skokie), a great opportunity for every everyone to enjoy nature-filled kayaking on the open waters. This spot is a great destination to bring your family and friends to relax the mind and enjoy the sights.

Skokie Lagoons

With a number of pools along the water system, this lagoon stands as one of the easiest spots to go kayaking in Chicago. However, since the lagoon is well known for being buggy, it’s advisable to always carry a bug repellent which can be in the form of spray, jelly or lotion.

This spot has numerous launching points that are ideal for kayakers. In addition, it is ideal for any paddler because the waters are flat, open and calm all year round. If you don’t own a kayak, you need not worry, since private boats are available for hire all around the lagoon.

5. Salt Creek

Salt Creek

This is an easily accessible paddling destination that is ideal for family and friends. It is divided into three sections that start from the Busse Lake in Elk Grove Village. Every section has its unique attributes, giving the paddler a beautiful experience while paddling through. This creek is easily accessed through the nicest section at the nature sanctuary that is located on the south side of Canterbury Lane. All throughout, this creek is filled with numerous amenities for picnicking, making for a great family getaway.

Famous Chicago Lakes Conclusion

As you can see, there are a number of lakes you can try kayaking this season. These Chicago lakes are amazing for all types of family fun. If you need to pick up a kayak, try Killer Kayaks and you can find a kayak for under $200. All you need to do is get your supplies ready, practice paddling, and get out there with your family and friends. Make sure to take a first aid kit if you’re making a day trip out of it, and adequate water and snacks, as well as a life jacket. Have fun and enjoy!